If you ask Dr. Amber Champion why she’s now a UNLV Medicine endocrinologist with an emphasis in diabetes, she begins by telling you a story that’s set in Australia, a story about an abnormally hungry 27-year-old medical student who ended up in the emergency room with blurry vision and an unquenchable thirst —
a young woman whose car broke down, whose bicycle burned up.
The truth is that this UNLV School of Medicine Assistant Professor’s path to the practice of endocrinology smacks of a run-in with Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
The year was 2004. Champion, a native of Washington state, was then a third year medical student at Flinders University of South Australia in Adelaide. Over a period of days her life changed and then changed some more. Her car broke down so she began riding a bicycle. Then her bike broke down so she took it to a bike shop. For some time she had felt unusually thirsty and hungry, yet she was losing weight, no matter how much she ate, then came the onset of blurry vision, and she ended up into the emergency room.
“When I woke up, I found out tests showed I had Type 1 diabetes —
the symptoms I was having weren’t unusual for someone with diabetes —
and I no longer had a bicycle,” she says, laughing. “The bicycle shop burned down... It was one thing after another…. “It’s actually pretty funny in retrospect... “When I woke up in the hospital and thought about all that had happened over a short time, all I could say was,“Really?’”
Going into her third year of medical school, Dr. Champion was sure OB/GYN would be her area of specialization. That all changed, however, with her diagnosis of diabetes as she lay in a hospital bed.
“I received a crash course in diabetes, taking insulin, and learning about carbohydrates... I changed gears to pursue an internal medicine residency, followed by a fellowship in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism... There’s no cure for diabetes but it is treatable. Education plays a huge role in diabetes self management and we can all live healthier and longer if we’re given the right tools to manage it... I try to provide that today... I now tell patients that I won’t manage their diabetes, they manage their own diabetes. I’m just here to give them the tools to self-manage, suggest different medications, or be their cheerleader —
whatever is needed.”
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1, an autoimmune disease, and Type 2, a metabolic disorder. Both are chronic diseases that affect the way the body regulates blood sugar or glucose. Glucose is the fuel that feeds the body’s cells, but to enter cells it needs a key. Insulin is the key. People with Type I diabetes don’t produce insulin. People with Type 2 diabetes don’t respond to insulin as well as they should and later in the disease often don’t make enough insulin. Both types can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of diabetes complications, which include: cardiovascular disease, nerve damage (neuropathy), and kidney damage (nephropathy).
as an endocrinologist she specializes in all things relating to our hormones
notes that 30 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority having Type 2. For a good discussion about the causes, risk factors, and the diagnosis of diabetes, go to
“Type 1 diabetes, which I have, can appear at any age, but it’s most commonly first seen among children.” says Dr. Champion, who daily uses an insulin pump to keep her blood sugar levels in a safe range.
Dr. Champion, who as a young girl wanted to be a firefighter, remains fascinated by the study of hormones. She completed her fellowship in endocrinology at the University of Arizona and practiced in both Maryland and Nebraska prior to coming to UNLV five months ago.
“Hormones are the messengers between different glands or organs in the body —
we can’t live without them. Some endocrine diseases
(including types of pituitary, parathyroid, thyroid and adrenal disease)
are rare and patients depend on their endocrinologist to advocate for them, for correct treatment, public awareness, and to make sure their insurance company covers their needs. Other endocrine disorders, like diabetes, are more common, which means lots of new technology and drugs are on the market for treatment or to make our lives with diabetes easier. Since education is such a big part of diabetes care, I think I can speak for most doctors that we are elated when a patient has understood the role their diet and lifestyle play and make changes for the better.”
Today, she points out that many people in high level stress positions, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as well as pro athletes
(NFL quarterback Jay Cutler is a Type 1 diabetic)
manage their diabetes well.
“I can’t stress enough how important education is,” says the physician. “It’s the key to living a full life with diabetes.”